The Cruising Adventures of Joan & Ben Schuetz aboard
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2000 - 2001 South American Cruise
We are preparing for this trip to begin sometime in January 2001. Francesca is nearly ready having had many upgrades during the summer and fall of 2000. Joan is busy stocking and organizing for our daily needs while I am concentrating on making Francesca as reliable and seaworthy as possible.
Our intended route will be to cruise south on the Intracoastal Waterway to the Florida Keys where, because of weather considerations, we will remain until April. After leaving the Keys the route will follow the Bahamas, then to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the Leeward Islands, Windward Islands, Trinidad, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Brazil and hopefully the Amazon River.
Other than weather considerations there is no timetable for any portion of the trip. We will get where we get when we get there. Joan and I are pleased that you can follow our progress and hope you enjoy the website as it is updated.
Our intentions this year were to begin a cruise to South America and a portion of the Amazon River. However, a problem of a business nature cropped up making it necessary to change our plans. In fact, for a time, it was unclear if we would even be able to make it away from the dock. Finally, February 22 there was a surprise resolution to the problem and the need for us to remain in South Carolina vaporized more suddenly than it appeared. By then, however, with no expectations of beginning such a long trip, we were unprepared. So, we decided to run from the cold and spend the rest of the winter and spring in the Florida Keys and the Bahamas Islands. The Amazon had waited for us for eons and we too could have a little patience.
The now familiar trip down the waterway to the Keys was as enjoyable as ever. On each trip we refine the anchorage locations for improved comfort, security and spacing. On arrival at Marathon's Boot Key Harbor, we met up with Mariam and Mark on Delphys. Last fall, they had the misfortune to have had a bad car accident and for a variety of reasons, their plans for the spring cruise were uncertain.
With the hope that Delphys would join us later, we left Marathon for the Bahamas on March 25th.
Weather kept us on the hook at Angelfish Creek near Key Largo until March 31st. Then, with 4 to 5 foot seas and a modest SE breeze we had a good crossing to the Bimini Islands.
We called Delphys on the satellite telephone and learned that they were soon to head our way, so we decided to wait for them. After all, we were in the Bahamas and even there, in the heavily trafficked Bimini Islands, the swimming, diving and beach combing are great.
Delphys arrived on the 11th of April and soon thereafter; we crossed the Banks to the NW passage, Tongue of the Ocean and arrived at Morgan's Bluff, Andros Island.
Andros Island is about the size of Puerto Rico and has the third longest barrier reef in the world
But it gets very poor press in the cruising world and we were determined to find out why. Morgan's Bluff was nothing to get excited about. It has a small harbor and settlement, but nothing of much interest and there is little protection from Northers.
We then went on the outside of the barrier reef and made for Fresh Creek, Andros. Fresh Creek has a couple of thousand residents, a marina, small protected harbor, barrier islands, excellent reef structure, fuel and supplies. During our stay at Fresh Creek, there was no room in the harbor and we had to anchor out behind the barrier islands. That was fine though, because in the harbor the yellow flies were bad. We stayed there a couple of weeks and enjoyed the diving. Weather, however, continued to be a problem with the wind rarely less than 20 knots.
Eventually, we found a few good days and were able to make our way behind the barrier reef down to North Bight. That route is strewn with coral heads and occasional very shallow water. With good visibility and minimal chop, however, it is not a difficult route. At North Bight, we went outside of the barrier reef and continued south to Middle Bight. There, the entry via the Autec Channel is good in almost any weather condition. The wind picked up again and we had to sit on the hook for several days.
With all of the rocking and rolling, Mariam's back condition (from the auto accident) deteriorated. Delphys had to return to the States at the first weather opportunity. Later, we learned that Mariam had cracked vertebrae and herniated disc.
After, another couple of days, we too tired of the constant pitching and rolling at the relatively exposed anchorage near the mouth of Middle Bight. We moved about 5 miles into the bight, crossing shallows with only inches to spare, and found a perfect protected anchorage. There we remained for several weeks while the wind continued.
Bone fishing for the fly fisherman is the most notable aspect of Middle Bight. People come here from all over for the excellent fishing. On several occasions, local guides in their small boats would stop by to check on us. James Moxey was one of them. He was 80 plus years old and still fished every day, usually alone, ranging all over the Bight. James lived in Moxeytown on the south side of the mouth of the Bight. When he stopped by, we gave him lunch or a snack and chatted about life on the Bight. James is a very colorful and interesting man.
Our resolve was cracking. Not only were we pummeled by an array of northers, but the local weather, caused by the land mass, offered an unusually high frequency of rain. There was cloud cover about 90 percent of the time.
Having run the generator daily for two months, the fuel situation was nearing the point where we would have to buy diesel. These days, in the Bahamas, diesel fuel is $2.50 per gallon. If we were to stay and continue the cruise, it was going to get pricey.
Since there was only slightly more than a month remaining before hurricane season, we decided to return to the U.S. Next time we go to the Bahamas, we will wait until the first of May before going.
It's kind of easy to see why Andros gets a bad rap, but it also has a great deal to offer if you can get the weather right. Large reef fish abound and the nearly 100 miles of reef is only sparsely dived. All weather anchorages are few, however, and traveling behind the reef requires good weather, a high sun, and an attentive skipper to avoid the hazards. We do hope to return one day under more favorable circumstances.
After departing the Bahamas, we wanted to take advantage of the Gulf Stream and head directly for Charleston, SC on the outside. Nearing a point abeam Florida's Lake Worth inlet, an engine coolant pump gave up the ghost. At the time, I could hear a bad noise, but couldn't localize the problem. So, we shut down the starboard engine and made for Lake Worth. That afternoon, with a spare on board, the problem was fixed.
During the trip, there were more mechanical problems than during the previous three years. Nothing serious, no showstoppers, but nagging little stuff like loosened shaft bolts, a rope in the prop, two coolant pump failures, some electronics problems, etc. Before the next cruise, the necessary changes will be made to reduce the likelihood of reoccurrence.
This summer there are a few more upgrades to do on Francesca and we plan to cruise the Chesapeake to visit our daughter Andrea in DC. Next fall? We're working on that. We continue to vacillate about the Amazon trip. There have been so many negative comments, mostly relating to crime, from cruisers who have been to Venezuela.
This fall will mark the end of our fourth year of cruising. Almost daily there are surprises, mostly good, some bad, but we continue to enjoy this fringe lifestyle immensely.
The following photos and comments are highlights of the trip.
One of the main attractions of the Bahamas is the beautiful water, great secluded beaches, and as much privacy as you may wish. Many of the islands are sparsely inhabited or not at all. You can go ashore almost anywhere with feelings of freedom that are rarely found on crowded home turf.
Crewmen are the key to a good cruise.
Underway we always welcome hitchhikers.
At Fresh Creek, Andros Island, a megabux yacht ran aground. Mark, from Delphys, and Ben came to the rescue and helped get it free. That's what boaters used to do routinely before Tow Boat companies gave skippers an excuse not to help.
Andros Island is the home of a number of US Autec bases. Those bases provide submerged practice target ranges for US submarines. While at Fresh Creek, a submarine surfaced near enough to get a picture.
While cruising north in the Tongue of the Ocean, we hit a fishing bonanza. Sometimes I have to wear my Captain's shirt to remind myself, and the crew, who's supposed to be in charge. This particular bull dolphin took an unusually long time to boat.
The next morning, we caught 5 more in rapid succession. Dolphins are beautiful, both in the water and in the freezer.
Back in the US, at Cape Canaveral, we watched a Delta launch.
Heading north and at Kings Bay, Georgia near the Florida - Georgia border, we were treated to view a sub returning home. I think it's a boomer, but maybe someone can be more enlightening.
Those are the photo highlights of our relatively short trip. It was a good cruise, but as I said, the wind put a damper on the intended activities and shortened the route.
Joan, Ben & Maggie